Government efficiency drive will place ‘greater emphasis on digital technology’

Civil service COO Alex Chisholm reflects on the biggest achievements of 2022 and the challenges of the year ahead

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

At the end of a hectic year for government, senior figures from across the civil service took part in PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World’s annual perm secs round-up to discuss how an eventful 12 months affected them and their organisation, and look ahead to 2023.

Click here to read more from a wide selection of government leaders.

Alex Chisholm, Cabinet Office permanent secretary and civil service chief operating officer, reflects on a year in which government progressed its digital ambitions.

What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?
Am I allowed two? One is the fantastic cross-government digital strategy that we published in June which will hopefully transform the way that the government delivers public services. Returning to our Glasgow second HQ in November brought home the brilliant success of our Places for Growth programme in creating roles for civil servants all across the country. We’ve gone in two years from four to nearly 400 roles in Glasgow alone and have seen similar successes in Darlington, Manchester, Leeds… 

What was your most difficult decision in 2022? 
Prioritising resources against a backdrop of significant political uncertainty and economic challenges so we get the best of our people and most bang for taxpayer buck. 

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how are you preparing to meet it as an organisation? 
Striking the right balance between proactive and reactive priorities. We are working to deliver efficiency across government by driving out waste through the activity of the cross- 
government functions, including a greater emphasis on digital technology. This is a longer-term change journey, and I have to make sure that the ship is not blown off course by other headwinds as the Cabinet Office also has an important role in risk, resilience and response to crises. For example, we have to mobilise teams in the civil service to help respond to the conflict in Ukraine, mitigate energy and supply chain difficulties and anticipate any domestic consequences. 

And personally, as a leader? 
I’ve already moved to a ‘digi box’ for reviewing advice and I’m trying to make a digi-day pack work for me. My office calculated that I see between 233 pages of briefing a day on average – so there’s a lot of trees at stake. So, digital by default opens up new ways of receiving information that aren’t just text submissions. 

It’s not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season? 
I got a Christmas job in school hols working shifts in a warehouse to pack up corporate gifts. After two weeks of parcelling up wine, cheese, pies and chocs, I had lost all sense of festive merriment – and my appetite with it! 


Sam Trendall

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